When the Boar’s Nest restaurant rather suddenly vacated their fine Princes Avenue premises last summer, the former butcher’s shop in a prime location on Hull’s most popular refreshment route only stood empty for a few weeks before Union Mash Up moved in.
It’s the pet project of former Beautiful South drummer Dave Stead, with menu choices reportedly inspired by his travels round the world with the group.
Little has changed décor-wise under his stewardship, which is a good thing. Under the previous owners, the interior was at the luxurious end of shabby chic and the Union Mash Up has a similar vibe but more shabby than chic. There are tiled floors, plain wooden tables and seats and a refreshing absence of fuss. Best of all there is music. Loud music. It’s generally of the Who/Kinks/Oasis variety and deliberately notched up louder than usual for a restaurant.
Along with the friendly, plain-speaking staff it all adds up to a funky little den reminiscent of the kind of locals’ place you’d happen across in the back streets of Berlin or Bratislava, crown as your favourite eaterie and then rave about when you get home. It fits in perfectly with the flat cap bohemia atmosphere of “Prinny Ave” and after we’d ordered a couple of pints of classic Catalan beer Estrella Damm we jumped into the menu with hopes high and the sound of Echo and the Bunnymen blaring out.
Musical influences are clear as soon as you see the names of the dishes; the likes of Not American Pie (actually beef and mushroom) and Deep Purple (lamb steak and beetroot mash) create a theme which borders on gimmicky but I’ll be kind and dub it fun. One great idea is the chance to create your own sausage and mash dish; pick from five sausage, four mash and three gravy options to build your own taste combination.
Eschewing the decent-looking wine menu we stuck with the beer (it seemed to fit the vibe) and tucked into starters of traditional bubble and squeak (£4.50, served with bacon, a poached duck egg and light balsamic sauce) and “Definitely Maybe the best Thai style fishcakes”. The bubble and squeak dish looked like the kind of thing you’d order to combat a hangover – comforting and hearty – and apart from the poached egg being a little under-done was pretty good. The balsamic in the gravy gave it a nice zing and the bubble and squeak was both fluffy and crispy, just as it should be. Good thing, as it was offered as accompaniment with a fair proportion of the dishes.
They have borrowed from the title of Oasis’s debut album for the Definitely Maybe best Thai style fishcakes. I shall counter with the name of Madness’s second LP to say that they are “Absolutely” not. For £4.50 they were okay, but they needed more Thai about them. Perhaps more distinct spicing, or an accompanying dip that doesn’t appear to be from a jar, as this one did. Only semi-successful starters, then; at least the beer and music were going down well.
The haddock, chips and mushy peas for mains was a decent enough plateful for the money (£8.95). But there could have been a few more chips and if the fish fillet wasn’t frozen then the chef did a good job of making it look like it was. The best bit of the dish was the minted mushy peas, which were delicious. That, though, is a bit like going to see your favourite band and leaving the gig having only really enjoyed the support act.
Porkies double-cooked pork belly with roast apple purée and hand dived scallops was served with dressed watercress and seasonal vegetables, which was a good thing because the two cubes of pork were a bit on the diddy side for £12.95. The scallops were also an odd addition, sat atop the cracking pork crackling they added little to the taste. The pork itself was delicious and melt-in-the-mouth and the apple sauce naturally went very well. Bigger pieces of pork and lose the scallops and the dish would be bang on.
Dessert brought a Bramley apple pie with pink custard and trifle with a twist. Both were £4.95 and both were passable. The apple pie was a bit bland and needed more about it to see you past the nostalgia hit of the pink custard. The only twist with the trifle seemed to be that is had very little sponge and no custard. The tinned fruit in jelly with cream on top that was served was nice, I suppose.
I really wanted to like Union Mash Up. The location, staff, décor, music and vibe are all fantastic and bode well. The food could do with some work, though. This criticism has to be tempered by two factors; apparently the chef was replaced within a couple of days of our meal and the prices are great – six plates of food and five pints of beer for £55 is good value.
This restaurant is still finding its feet and with locally-sourced food and dedicated vegetarian, gluten-free and children’s selections on the menu they deserve to succeed. Bearing in mind the provenance of Union Mash Up’s owner I’d like to give the place a Perfect 10, with a few tweaks here and there I’m hoping next time I visit that’s what they’ll get.
Union Mash Up, 22 Princes Avenue, Hull, HU5 3QA. 01482 447788. Open: 10am to 10pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 3.30pm on Sunday.